Poems About Stars – Selected Poets part I

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Our selected poets from the Stars Challenge share their poems before and after feedback.

Congratulations to our selected poets – Ursula Knights, Serena Cooke, Jonny Rodgers, Natasha Bailey and Zohar Mendzelevski-Steinberg – who approached the theme of Stars with such verve and imagination. Here we have the first three selected poems, shown before and after feedback, so others can see the processes the poets went through in redrafting their work.

‘Our Astro’ by Ursula Knights

We chose ‘Our Astro’ because of the fresh, original images and the big messages contained within the poem. We were really impressed with Ursula’s rhythm and rhyme scheme – the end rhymes are very sophisticated but also natural.

We enjoyed how Ursula writes in quite a matter-of-fact tone about some very mysterious ideas, like “star dust deficiency”. There are big themes in the poem – salvation and humanity – but she deals with them in a non-showy way. The experiences described are fantastical – like travelling to the Andromeda galaxy – but the feelings described are very human. The ‘you’ of the poem is suffering from post-holiday blues and the speaker of the poem is feeling a bit jealous!

We loved “the stars’ letters of resignation” – such an unusual image, which suggests an academic or scientific setting as well as being very magical, as if the stars were humans. We also liked the idea that salvation is written into the stars – Ursula leaves it nicely unclear as to what this “salvation” actually means.

The final version is just below. After, we’ll show you the original version and the suggestions we made to help Ursula think about how she could polish her poem.

Our Astro

Now you’re back observing our cobweb constellations,
Helping me collect the stars’ letters of resignation.
Since you’ve returned from the Andromeda galaxy,
Have you been suffering from start dust deficiency?

Remember when we observed, with the lonely pools of pale lamplight,
The colour spectrum refracted into a pinprick against the night.
There’s a secret message, carved millennia ago to heal our own scars,
Can you help me translate the salvation scribed in the stars?

Original version:

Now you’re back observing our cobweb constellation,
Helping me collect in the star’s letters of resignation,
Since you’ve been back from your visit to the Andromeda galaxy,
Have you been suffering from star dust deficiency?

Remember when we observed the pools of pale lamplight,
Contrasting and perforating the pitch, panglosian night,
Can you help me translate the salvation scribed in the stars?
A secret message, carved centuries ago to heal our own scars

 

In the original, we suggested Ursula consider a full stop at the end of line 3. “Letters of resignation” is a really good image, so it’s nice to have a pause to let the image sink in. Punctuation can have quite an effect so it’s worth experimenting.

In line 3, Ursula repeated the word “back”, which was quite soon after the first use. She changed it to “returned” instead.

In line 6, we suggested that  “perforate” was usually associated with sharp objects, and that “pitch, panglosian night” was a bit difficult to understand – we had to reach for a dictionary! This jolted us out of the world of the poem. Ursula completely rewrote these two lines to create a lovely new image – redrafting doesn’t necessarily mean just changing words here and there, you might need to make more fundamental changes.

Ursula’s last two lines worked well already, but as an experiment we suggested she see what happened if she switched them round. This changes the mood of the poem – instead of ending on the certainty of the “secret message”, we end with uncertainty but hope. It’s an interesting experiment to try yourself: if you have a problem poem, see if shifting about lines or stanzas can offer you a new way into it.

‘The Pioneer’ by Serena Cooke

We chose ‘The Pioneer’ because of the gorgeous language and atmosphere and the beautiful rhymes. The colours Serena describes are so vivid and we are really there with the pioneer as he creates his masterpiece.

The poem is full of great ideas – ridding the darkness of vanity is totally original, and the image of the man’s arm painting the canvas in a pendulum motion is very accurately observed.

We loved how the words “instrument” and “pendulum” cleverly set up the time and atmosphere at the beginning of the poem. We also enjoyed the way the rich imagery – particularly in the second half – is complemented by the musical rhymes: “incandescence/ darkness/ opalescence/ iridescence”.

The Pioneer

He sweeps his instrument in a pendulum motion
Over his fresh canvas
The Pioneer’s tool trails and bequeaths
Inky black, smooth as fine silk
Glossy and polished like a feather of a crow
He dabs lapis lazuli, raw and impure
Accompanied by a symphony
Of burnt roses with a magnificent glow
And intense luminosity
He takes up his next device and daubed in white
He pulls back the bristles and

Releases

……The blobs of pearl

…………………………………splatters

….all
………………over

to create a show of brilliance
…………………………….incandescence
blots……………………………………of accidental art

………a fortuitous encounter

like a stain of goodness
………………………….Cleansing the darkness

……………………………………………………Ridding it

of vanity…………………opalescence

…………………………………..milky iridescence

illuminating the Pioneer’s soul
…………………………………broadening his thoughts

…………….expanding his accomplishment

enhancing his creativity    that doesn’t       stand still

……….Light Balls
………………….Balls of Light

…………………………………..made in his own image

Radiating his wholesomeness

Original version:

He begins
He sweeps his instrument in a pendulum motion
Over his fresh and undisturbed canvas
The Pioneer’s tool trailed and bequeathed the
Tapestry with an inky black, smooth as fine silk
Glossy and polished like a feather of a crow
He dabbed lapis lazuli, raw and impure onto
The invention accompanied with a symphony
Of garnets and rubies with a magnificent glow
And glimmer
He took up his next device and daubed in white
He pulled back the bristles and

Released
…………The blobs of pearl
……………………………………..splattered
…….all
…………………over
to create a show of brilliance
……………………………….incandescence
blots……………………………………random spots
Like dried toothpaste
………………………….Cleansing the darkness
…………………………………………………..Ridding it
of vanity………………opalescence
………………………………………milky iridescence
illuminating the Pioneer’s soul
……………………………broadening his thoughts
…………………….expanding his creation
……….Light Balls
……………………….Radiating his wholesomeness

In the original poem, Serena started with “He begins”. We wondered if “He sweeps” was actually a more dynamic opening – the image of the “fresh and undisturbed canvas” made it clear that the pioneer was beginning his project. We also suggested that just saying “fresh canvas” would make the poem tighter; “undisturbed” was another way of saying “fresh” so Serena didn’t need them both.

We liked the ambiguity of “tool” and “next device” – we are never quite sure what the pioneer’s creation actually is. However, we found the different ways of describing the canvas – first “canvas”, then “tapestry”, then “invention” – a bit confusing. Serena pared back the poem so she only used the word “canvas” and then got rid of the other nouns.

The tenses in the poem didn’t quite match at first, so Serena put it all in the present tense, which gives the poem even more immediacy.

There were a few words and phrases which brought us out of the poem for different reasons. “Random spots” sounded a bit modern (and also makes us think of spots on the skin!), and so did “Like dried toothpaste”. Serena created lovely new images which chime with the atmosphere of the poem.

‘Little Man’ by Jonny Rodgers

We chose ‘Little Man’ because of the spot-on images and powerful, moving ending. The opening image is totally original and evocative. There are also lots of great half-rhymes: picture/flour, black/wrapped, thumb/bacon.

We loved Jonny’s phrasing – “tight as bacon”, “steamed out”, “cheaty”, “that used to sit in his eye”. It creates a world that is both familiar and magically unfamiliar.

We also really liked how the revelation of the last three stanzas forces you to reread the poem – and the significance of “dust” in line 4 is poignantly exposed.

Little Man

When it finally happened
all I could picture
was a pebble’s impact in a bowl of flour
and the circle of dust
rising.

I took us into the chill black,
five toy-like fingers wrapped
around my thumb, tight as bacon,
and you asked
‘Why don’t they make any sound?’

I steamed out some words
concerning large balls of gas,
but you preferred all the “c” ones
you’d caught in school:
cosmic, cluster, constellation,
even celestial with its cheaty “s”.

And like any other question
you asked
‘Which one is he now?’

Little man, so sure
that I could spy out
the pinprick of light
that used to sit in his eye.

He gave it to you.

Original version:

When it finally happened
all I could picture
was a pebble’s impact in a bowl of flour
and the circle of dust
rising.

I took us out into the chill black,
those five toy-like fingers wrapped
around my thumb, tight as bacon,
and you asked why they didn’t make any sound?

I steamed out some words
concerning large balls of gas,
but you preferred all the “c” ones:
cosmic, cluster, constellation,
even celestial with its cheaty “s.”

And like any other question
you asked: which one was he now?

Little man, so sure
that I could spy out
the pinprick of light
that used to sit in his eye.

He gave it to you.

In the first version, there were a couple of words we thought Jonny could cut – “out” and “those” in lines 6 and 7. In the first instance, we thought cutting the line back to “I took us into the chill black” sounded more mysterious and magical. And because the reader hadn’t met the child in the poem yet, Jonny could cut “those” from “five toy-like fingers”, and create a line dominated by forceful stressed syllables: “FIVE TOY-like FINGers WRAPPED”. This was a nice way of reinforcing, through sound, the warm solidness of the child’s hand.

In the third stanza, we wondered where, in the world of the poem, the child had learnt “all the ‘c’ ones”. Jonny added the line “you’d caught in school” to clarify this, and enhanced the alliteration while he was at it. He also explained to us that he added the mention of school to shore up the division between the wondering child and the worldlier adult.

As an experiment, we suggested that Jonny experiment with the child’s reported speech in the poem. It worked already, but it is always worth playing around to see the different effects you can achieve. Jonny chose to include direct quotes from the child, introducing a poignant, differentiated voice into the poem.

Why not take one of your own poems and try applying some of these feedback points? Then you could send your revised poem to one of the opportunities in our Poetry Opportunities Page!

For more poems and feedback, click here.

Published October, 2012

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